Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is a Big 12 microsite writer. He’s covering the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City this weekend.
- Big Day For Ben McLemore: The show began early for McLemore. The redshirt freshman threw down two of the nastier dunks you’ll ever get to see in person, all within the first five minutes of the game. He finished with 24 points — and didn’t even play during garbage time in the second half. It was another vintage performance for one of the best players in this league, and it came on a day where his teammates struggled offensively. The first half was ugly at times, as the Red Raiders recovered from an early 13-2 hole to at least make the game somewhat competitive. Thanks in large part to McLemore, though, the competition didn’t last long. By the first media timeout in the second half, the game was all but over.
- Good Job, Good Effort: You never want to belittle a team for “playing hard” when it loses in a blowout, but Texas Tech has a nice collection of young players. They appear motivated yet simply inexperienced, and freshman point guard Josh Gray might be the best example of that. He did not play particularly well on Thursday, but throughout the season, he’s exemplified that “flashes-of-brilliance” cliché in college basketball. As for his teammates, Dejan Kravic followed up his game-winning tip-in to beat West Virginia by leading his team in scoring against the Jayhawks with 20 points. The 6’11’’ center was the team’s most assertive offensive player. He’s a little lanky, sure, but he has a great blend of size and offensive skills. He finished the season scoring in double figures in three straight games, and he’s got that buzzer-beater to build off for next year, too. With the bulk of this team returning, including leading scorer Jaye Crockett and Jordan Tolbert (the 2011-12 leading scorer), it’s a start for Texas Tech to have at least reached the quarterfinals in Kansas City.
- Chris Walker’s Future: That’s been the talk all week surrounding Texas Tech — will it retain Walker? He’s been tagged with that interim position after the departure of Billy Gillispie last summer. He’ll have a lot of continuity in his roster next year if he is indeed the head coach, and he’s earned praise from his peers for the difficult job he inherited this year. The Red Raiders won three Big 12 games and finished nine games below .500. That’s bad. But the effort has been a little better than last year, and it may be unfair to judge him based on this year’s results alone, considering the Gillispie disaster. It’s up the Red Raiders to figure out how they want to proceed.
Star of the Game: Ben McLemore takes this award, and it’s not even close. The thing that’s so impressive about him is how efficiently he works as an offensive player. He rarely takes bad shots, and he fits well within the framework of Bill Self’s offense. Kansas is lucky he was on his game today. Otherwise, with the lack of offensive support from other scorers, maybe things would have shaken out differently here at the Sprint Center. Or not. It was a 28-point win, after all. Either way, kudos to McLemore.
Wildcard: Kansas got to empty the bench in the second half, which apparently started a three-point barrage. Freshmen Andrew White and Rio Adams combined to knock down four three-pointers. You’d have thought they were McLemore. Tyler Self also got to play, but he turned the ball over twice. His father was not very pleased on the bench, reacting only by putting his hands in his face.
Quotable: ”There’s a lot of controversy. It’ll be a fun game.” — Kansas’ Jeff Withey, regarding the semifinal matchup against Iowa State.
What’s Next: Part Three of the Iowa State vs. Kansas showdown in Friday’s semifinal round. No word on whom the officials will be.